You don’t know John Carpenter of Firebrick, Ky.

That is, you don’t know him yet.

But three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre does. And legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt does. And former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner even called Carpenter a personal friend.

In fact, in the tiny town of Firebrick (population 200), which is in Lewis County about an hour east of Maysville, nearly everyone knows Carpenter. He’s kind of famous.

“He’s just an all-around good person,” says Jenny Parson, who owns a gas station and market up the road a bit. “Someone would be missing out if they weren’t friends with him.”

Started With An Autograph

His claim to fame? His 6,000-plus pieces of sports memorabilia has been confirmed as the largest personal collection of its kind in the world by Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

“I love sports — UK basketball, the Yankees, Babe Ruth,” says the 52-year-old Carpenter, who lives with his mother in a red brick home just off of Kentucky Route 8. “I just love having all these things.”

It started in 1974, when Carpenter, then just 15, got his first autograph from Nick Buoniconti, a star linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. He asked, and the football player obliged. That gave Carpenter an idea.

“I just started asking more people, finding their addresses and sending them a stamped envelope,” Carpenter says. “They would send me back an autographed picture, or sometimes, other things.”

His modest house is filled with items from jerseys to hats, baseballs to bobbleheads. One entire room is devoted to the collection, as is the basement, which is littered with boxes. Growing up, Carpenter became a sports radio producer in the town, and it brought him in touch with celebrities like NBC’s Bob Costas, as well as local athletes. “And everyone I met, I asked them for an autograph,” he says.

As the years went on, Carpenter’s collection grew and so did his notoriety.

“The thing about John is he’s never tried to take advantage of anybody,” says Gary Kidwell, a sportswriter, coach and radio personality who first interviewed Carpenter when the collector was a young man. “People know he’s genuine.”

From there, the story grew. Other local newspapers and magazines made the drive down Ky. 8 to the red brick house, and in 1994, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! verified the collection as the world’s largest. Around that time, the people of Firebrick gave Carpenter his own road sign, visible just as you enter town. ESPN got wind of the story and flew him to its Bristol, Conn., studios for a spot on its then-morning show Cold Pizza. Wheaties even created a special cereal box with his likeness.

Verifiably True

Of course, all of this just gave him more credibility with the athletes and other sports figures. When they heard of his collection, most were only too happy to donate.

“He just has a way of talking to people,” Kidwell says. “That’s John’s life. I’ve known him since high school — I taught him — and even back then, he just knew sports and stats backwards and forwards.”

Carpenter began corresponding with Steinbrenner in the 1990s, eventually leading the Yankees owner to proclaim Carpenter the “No. 1 Yankees Fan.” Steinbrenner sent him tickets and several pieces of memorabilia. Favre sent him an autographed helmet. And Pete Rose sent Carpenter a personal, game-worn Philadelphia Phillies’ jersey.

Not for Sale

But Carpenter’s favorite piece, enclosed in a glass case and locked inside a cabinet, is a ball reportedly hit for a home run by Babe Ruth. Experts believe the ball to be Ruth’s 552nd career home run, hit out of Detroit’s old Navin Field (later Tiger Stadium). The ball’s value? To Carpenter it is priceless.

“I’d never sell any of this,” he says. “What I need is a museum or something where I can put all of this and show it to people.”

Carpenter takes some items from his collection to local fairs and shows from time to time. A recent Olympics-themed show allowed him to produce a football supposedly kicked by Olympian Jim Thorpe when the legendary athlete played for a Portsmouth, Ohio, semi-pro team.

“He’s got an amazing collection,” Jenny Parson says. And she should know. A lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan, she has her own Steelers room in her house, complete with Terrible Towels and Steelers bears. “Oh no, he would laugh at my room,” she says.

Carpenter has been given a bobblehead in his likeness by manufacturer Euro-Pacific Corp. He has a ring from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! after appearing in one of their cartoons. What else could he possibly want?

“I’d like to have a place to put all of this,” he says. “Maybe I’m getting popular enough now that sometime someone could help me figure out where I can put it all.”

So if you’re ever on Ky. 8, go south, away from the river. Pass Jen’s Pitt Stop and the Firebrick church. Pull in at the red brick house, and see if he’s home. Prepare to talk a while. But you won’t mind.

After all, you’re meeting the world famous John Carpenter.